Duke antidepressant startup Evecxia brings on ex-Cerecor chief as CEO

Founded by Duke University researchers Marc Caron and Jacob Jacobsen, Evecxia's single drug candidate aims to increase serotonin levels beyond conventional antidepressants. (Wikimedia Commons)

Evecxia has officially named John Kaiser as its CEO and interim chairman of its board of directors. Kaiser has been working with the Duke University spinout’s management since March.

Focused on treating depression, the startup is looking to advance development of its oral, slow-release formulation of low-dose carbidopa and 5-hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, a precursor of serotonin. The drug, EVX-101, aims to elevate extracellular serotonin and is being developed as an adjunctive therapy for patients that have not seen strong benefits with conventional antidepressants.

Following previous proof-of-concept work in human efficacy and safety, “EVX-101 is exciting because risk is mitigated compared to novel, but unproven, mechanisms and novel chemistry, and because of the tremendously large unmet need that continues to exist for safe and effective adjunctive antidepressants,” Kaiser said in a statement.

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Kaiser previously served as interim CEO of Cerecor—after the company’s chief executive, Uli Hacksell, retired last year following a $45 million deal to license its antidepressant candidate to Johnson & Johnson.

RELATED: Cerecor CEO retires after scoring Johnson & Johnson license deal

Before that, Kaiser served as CEO of Denysias Bioscience and chief business officer at Acadia Pharmaceuticals, and held various global positions in general management, marketing and sales during a 28-year career at Eli Lilly & Co.

“John brings invaluable experience to his new role as Evecxia’s CEO from many years in leading positions in both the pharma and biotech sectors,” said Roger Jeffs, a member of Evecxia’s board of directors and co-founder of Bull City Select I, an early investor in the Research Triangle Park, North Carolina-based company. “John’s leadership and operational capabilities will immediately propel the growth of Evecxia as a clinical-stage company.”